The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Recently Andy posted on his Pain Au Levain with Light Rye.  His formula was quite similar to something I had tried awhile ago with a major difference: the percentage of fermented flour, which was more than double what I had used (33.3% rather than 16%).   I decided to try Andy's approach.  I followed his directions with the following differences: I used my own idiosyncratic methods for refreshing starter mostly in the refrigerator,   scaled to half of his formula and made a single 1Kg batard,  reduced salt to 1% of flour so that my husband could eat it,  and retarded for 12 hours in addition to a 2.5 hour bulk ferment and combined (evening and morning) counter proof of 2.5 hours.   Finally, not having access to either of Andy's flours, I used KAAP and KA White Rye.  The profile of the resulting loaf was quite similar (and Mt. Vesuvius-like) to my earlier efforts and quite different from Andy's more miche-like structure.  

What took me totally by surprise though was the crumb.   While my earlier sour doughs with white rye had a certain density which allowed me to cut very thin slices without smashing the loaf, this one was lighter than air, and I had to cut even thick slices very carefully to keep from tearing apart the loaf:

Also, using the leave in the oven for 10 minutes with the door slightly propped open trick which Andy suggested for this loaf (and I've used with absolutely no success on many occasions) I got a nice singing crackly crust.

This is the first time I've tried to follow one of Andy's formulas, but certainly not the last.   Delicious!

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Matzo has two ingredients - flour and water.   It is supposed to be baked not more than a couple of minutes after adding the water to the flour.    It's not supposed to rise at all so it has to be pricked.   When you put all that together you get a very, very easy recipe.   And yet, I've never tried to make it before.   Passover starts tomorrow night.    Matzo has two identities.   One, it is supposed to be the extremely quick travel bread that the Jewish slaves slapped together for the road when they were in such a hurry that they didn't have time to let it rise.   But it is also referred to as the "bread of our affliction."   And if you look back at the ingredient list - exactly the same as for paste - you kind of get that point as well.   In other words it really doesn't taste very good.   Anyhow, after all these years, I decided to try it myself.   I specifically decided not to look up a recipe.   What's to look for?    It's flour and water.   It's made fast.   It's pricked.   End of story.

My approach:  

Preheat oven to 450F.   Then quickly mix 100g AP flour with 65g water, roll it out, prick with a fork all over, and put in the oven (I used a perforated pizza tray.)   Bake until slightly brown.  Show your kids.   My son is eating it now.   Delicious he tells me.   Right. 

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I wasn't planning on posting today, nor on making a four pound loaf, but sometimes things happen.   My two aims for the day were to make something from Maggie Glezer's book, which I recently purchased, and something with a fair amount of whole wheat.   So I picked Thom Leonard's Country French Bread, without reading the whole way through.    I noticed at the flour part that I was pouring a lot of flour into the bowl, but I figured that it would call for cutting into multiple loaves later in the day.   By the time I got to that point I realized that I was making a miche in all but name.   And this after I steadfastly avoided the miche craze of the winter.  This is a lot o' bread.   Oh my.

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Sometimes it's all about the flour.   I have two bags of flour in my cupboard that I've been dying to use.   One is a 00 flour that I unexpectedly found carried by an store in the center of town.   Lexington, Massachusetts isn't exactly a food town.   The only bread bakery in town carries vast yeasty undercooked loaves that make me gag.   And an Italian grocery / sandwich shop has been there for 2 years without me ever setting food in it.   I simply didn't believe it would be worth my while.   It was.   Ergo 00 flour - surprise, surprise.  The second flour was a bag of semolina that I picked up on my food excursion to Watertown in an Armenian grocery.   I didn't need it - I already had two bags of semolina at home.   Ah well, I buy flour like some people buy shoes.   I know that 00 flour is for pizza.   At this point I really know it since I made pizza dough the other day and handed it off to the resident pizza chef and it was really remarkable - crisp and light.  But I wanted to make bread.    And came upon a recipe on King Arthur - - that uses both KA Italian Style flour and semolina.   I had to try it.   I converted to weight and metric and made a few more changes - I am reducing salt by around half nowadays for health reasons in all my breads; added more water than called for just to get the dough to adhere; and used 00 instead of the Italian style.   Here is the formula:


00 flour




















non-diastatic malt powder





Olive oil










sesame to sprinkle










Mix all ingredients but sesame and knead for 5 minutes


(used Kitchen Aid for kneading)




Bulk ferment in bowl until puffy




Cut in three sections, roll out, and braid



Cover and proof until double




Spritz with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds



Bake for 27 minutes at 400 with some steam at the beginning






I forgot the step in the original where the dough rests for 30 minutes between mixing and kneading.  

This results in a soft tender bread which has the subtle flavor of its flours.   Not flashy, but really good.   Also quite a large loaf - fifteen inches long.

And the flour:


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A recent blog post made me sit up and take notice. shows two loaves; one made with steam at the beginning of the bake, the second steamed later in the process.   The first one looks better by a lot.   Lately I've been making batards with two cuts.   The most frequent outcome is that one of the cuts opens nicely and takes most of the bloom of the loaf, and the second opens a bit, and then seals over.   In trying to diagnose this I thought it might be either a shaping or a steaming issue.    So I changed my batard shaping so that instead of rolling toward me (a la Ciril Hitz) I roll away (a la Mark from the Back Home Bakery).   The latter method seems to allow me to get a tighter gluten sheath so I'm sticking with it.   However, it didn't seem to solve the problem.   Yesterday, I decided to see if more steam at the beginning of the bake would help.   I made a pain au levain (almost the same as Hamelman p. 158 but with higher hydration 69% vs 65%, higher percentage of prefermented flour 17% vs 15% and a lot less salt.)   The only change I made to my regular baking process was to add a dry broiler pan underneath the stone during preheat, and fill it with water at the same time as loading the loaves.   This is in addition to my usual loaf pans filled with water and wet towels which I place on each side of the stone.  Here is the result:


Not a perfect loaf by any means, but the first time in recent memory where my cuts opened evenly.   Should I attribute this to the extra steaming at the beginning of the bake?  I think so.


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Last week, Lynnebiz and I decided that since we weren't likely to get to Viet Nam or other exotic locales anytime soon, we would explore close to home.   So we took a food excursion to Watertown, Massachusetts.    Watertown, like all the towns around here, was settled by Europeans in the 1600s - in fact in 1630 only ten years after the original European settlement at Plymouth.   However, its face is continually changing as wave after wave of immigrants arrives.   This makes it particularly attractive for people who love good bread, and authentic food in general.    Today it is an ordinary middle class workaday town just outside of the city of Boston.   After having worked in downtown Boston for a couple or years, I thought I was being exiled to Siberia when I got a new job in Watertown - but I quickly found that I could eat better in Watertown than I had in Boston.   That was ten years ago, and if anything the situation has only gotten better.    The first stop on our excursion was to Arax, an Armenian grocery.

Workaday street by Arax Market

Wall of spices at Arax - remind me never to buy spices in the supermarket again

Second we went a few doors down to the Massis Bakery, also Armenian.   There we found:


cracker bread and pistachio treats

No, that's not a bagel - it's around 10 inches in diameter.

And my "travel" companion:

We moved on to an Iranian Bakery which was too dark inside to get much, but the window tells you something in itself -

and down the street to Sofra's which I'm told is some American entrepreneur's foray into the market:

They have interesting spices too - I got za'atar here for my Tunisian bread. 

I hope that Lynne will post too.   We went to several more places, and I didn't get everything.    So yes, the North End is nice, but so is this, and less on the beaten track. 

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Recently my husband announced that he needed to cut way back on salt in his diet, and after quizzing me about the bread I've been baking, determined that he needed to cut way back on my bread.   Given that he's my principal guinea pig (I mean recipient, I mean,... oh forget it)  I viewed this as a setback.   After some thought though I realized it was an opportunity.   And so ...  Tuscan bread.

I used the recipe from King Arthur with a few tweaks.  There is no salt in this whatsoever.   I was expecting it to taste drab and dull, and to sag and look awful.   But no - just a nice simple white bread, and tasty too, with a distinctive taste, that I wouldn't necessarily have attributed to lack of salt without knowing that was the "missing" ingredient.   The crumb is nothing to write home about:

but the crust is very crisp and nice (I don't recall ever making anything like it before) and I even got a visit from the crackle fairy who has been boycotting me no matter what I do:

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I'm so excited - I just can't hide it - I'm about to lose control and I think I like it.

Until today, I had no idea the Pointer Sisters were bakers.  

Finally, on my sixth attempt at making the Gérard Rubaud Miche which Shiao Ping so memorably demonstrated, I have something that looks like bread.   I don't know why this bread is so difficult.   I adapted it, and adapted it some more to get to this point.   I was motivated by the fact that it is really just completely delicious even when it looks like something the cat dragged in.   My husband (who claims he only likes white bread) says everytime I make this, "This is really good.   Have you ever made it before?"   This bread even contains its own ether of forgetfulness.    I won't cut it until tomorrow, so who knows, but... Proth5's comment on DavidG618's  recent post on whole wheat sourdoughs, was what led to the latest adaptations.   Shiao Ping mentions fermenting this for around 3 hours in quite warm conditions before cold retarding overnight.   This is what I tried to do for several of my tries.   This time I cut the bulk ferment to less than two hours, with total fermentation including proofing at 4 hours and 15 minutes.   Earlier I had given up on the mixed grain starter with three stages and tiny amounts of rye and spelt added at each stage, and just started using my own regular starter.   That also helped a lot.   Maybe with the shorter ferment times, I could go back to the  Rubaud starter.   I am curious as to whether or not it would make a difference (in a positive way that is.)

Here is the formula:   I also scaled down from the original quantity of around 3.5 pounds to 2.5 pounds.   But I'm not going to call it a mini-miche - just a miche that is slightly smaller than regulation.






























































(Even though I used my own starter, I adjusted all the numbers so they came out with the same percentages as Shiao Ping's version.) 

 And the crumb with spelt-induced sheen:

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After struggling with several formulae which never seem to come out right, I decided to change things up a bit.   First, I completely changed my starter routine.   Second I found myself at the counter with an empty mixing bowl and no idea of what I was going to make, so I made something up.   I'm not that good at computing percentages in my head, so I kept it simple, basically going with a fairly simple sourdough, but swapping in some white rye.   The results were less than stellar - the loaf exploded in the oven - basically jumping to around three times its unbaked height.  The second time all seemed well in the oven but halfway through, suddenly it slipped a gasket and a huge cancerous growth leaped out the side, almost as big as the mother loaf.    The third time, I could probably have waited another half hour on the final proof but it was way past my bedtime.   It may have opened too much but it didn't explode, so I call that a victory. 

The addition of white rye (which incidentally Hamelman says is not fit for bread baking) makes some pretty interesting but subtle changes in taste an texture.   My husband, who generally will only eat a slice or so of my more obviously rye breads eats this as if it were an all white bread which I guess it is.  The crumb is denser than a lower percentage rye sourdough, you can cut extremely thin slices without tearing the loaf, but still quite open.  

In general, the taste is such that I wouldn't mind having this as my everyday loaf.  

One of the things I've been working really hard at is trying to control the temperature of my dough.   I came upon a very simple method.   I take a pot and fill it with very hot water directly from the sink, and put the lid on upside down.   Then set the bowl or proofing basket on top of it.   I replace the water after the second stretch and fold as by then it has cooled down a bit.   I have found that I can maintain dough temperature in the mid 70s F by using this method.    Even so I still underproofed because it just seems to take so long to ferment this dough all the way through.   Here is my set up:

Finally the formula - simple but good if you throw in a little patience:



Final Dough











White Rye/Dark Rye






























Total grams/ estimated pounds







Autolyse flour and water for 20 minutes.   Mix in salt and starter.   Bulk Ferment for 3 hours with three stretch and folds.  Proof for AS LONG AS IT TAKES.   Bake at 450F with steam for first 15 minutes, without for 17 minutes.

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When I first joined TFL over a year ago, I was completely blown away by a post by Shiao Ping.   Perhaps you remember it - a Gérard Rubaud miche stenciled with his initials and photographed with Japanese maple leaves floating around in the frame: I read the post over several times and just shook my head.   Maybe in another life...  That other life may be closer but it isn't here yet.    A few weeks ago I suddenly remembered this post and looked it up and tried it.   I tried to follow Shiao Ping's instructions to the letter.   I added tiny amounts of spelt and rye to the starter - in fact so tiny that they are not really measurable in my kitchen.   I mixed up the dough, and religiously did the 5 in the bowl stretch and folds every half hour.   I retarded overnight because she did even though she said that GR doesn't do it that way.   And what did I find the next morning?   Soup.   I poured it out onto my peel and it flowed over the edge.   I flipped up the overflow and slid it as best as I could onto the stone and it flowed over the edges of the stone.   Not a happy thing.   But I baked it, and pulled it out and cooled it down and cut off the overflow lips, and tasted, and oh man.   Ugly but delicious.   Here is the ugly.  

I can't show you the delicious.  I tried to figure out what I could do differently.   I decided to do away with some of the tiny measurements by only adding rye to one elaboration and spelt to another (it's a three stage starter) and I decided not to retard overnight, and to do two stretch and folds on the counter every 50 minutes a la Hamelman.   I also cut the total from around 4 pounds to 2.5 (is it still a miche?) And finally I moved around the times of the starter stages.   Instead of having the first tiny amount ferment overnight which I thought would just dry out since it was so small, I had the first stage go for 3 hours, and the second overnight.   So again.   This time the dough seemed a bit more manageable, but even when it would come together on a stretch and fold, it would seem to liquify immediately thereafter.   This is an 80% hydration loaf, and that's high, but I've made other formulas at 80% and something else seemed to be going on than high hydration.    Here is outcome number 2.   Not much better.  

but still really delicious and motivating me to figure out how to make this thing properly.    On my third attempt, I decided the main issue is that the starter was the culprit that was causing severe liquification of the dough.    This is a crazy starter.   You start out with a tiny amount and build up the flour by a factor of 40 over three stages.   It has a high percentage of whole grains which I thought might be the problem.   You also add such tiny amounts of rye and spelt in the first two elaborations that you end up asking yourself, why am I doing this?   So I decided that in the hands of an artist like Shiao Ping this might be doable but for a peasant like me, no way.   I decided to take my regular starter and build it up as I normally do in two stages, building up the flour by a factor of around 5 rather than 40 with white flour only leaving out the whole grains.   I compensated for this by adding the whole grains to the final dough and kept all the percentages the same as the original formula.   I felt that only by working with a starter that I understood could I have any chance of getting this bread made properly.   Here is the starter build and formula that I ended up using:

        First take half         Second    
  70%    10:15pm plus 9.5 hours plus 5 hours
Ripe Starter 132          
Rye 10   5      
White 68 100 84 100    
Water 54 67 61 46 56%  
Expansion         4.9  
Total / % used in final dough     296 52%  
  Final Starter        
WW 127 0     18%  
Spelt 64 0     9%  
Rye 19 3     3%  
White 405 95     70%  
Water 515 55     80%  
Salt 13       1.9%  
Starter   153     14%  
Total grams/Estimated pounds 1296 2.57        


This seemed a lot better behaved in the bowl coming together on the stretch and folds and not liquifying immediately thereafter.   Imagine my surprise when I tried to remove it from the bowl it was proofing in when it again flowed over the edges of the peel.   Again I quickly flipped up the overflow so the whole thing looked like a bialy and slid it into the oven without slashing (as if you can slash liquid.)   In the oven it expanded nicely and the sunken center filled out.   Again not a thing of beauty.   The crumb this time seemed more or less proper without the big caves of the first two at the top of the loaf.   But now I'm feeling tapped out.   I don't know where to go from here.   I don't understand the tendency of this dough to liquify at a moments notice.   Any ideas?   In other words - help!

The third try:


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